Deleted Scenes

Waterbearer Films,

Todd Verow

James Derek Dwyer, Todd Verow

Michael Vaccaro, Ivica Kovacevic, Brad Hallowell, Todd Verow, David Douglas, Mike Guzman

Unrated, 90 min.

Discarded Footage
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online November, 2010

Guerrilla filmmaker Todd Verow makes personal films without any concessions towards the mainstream and his latest is no exception. Frisk, his notorious 1996 debut, polarized gay audiences (Verow's adaptation of Dennis Cooper's controversial novel was a very politically incorrect study of an S&M enthusiast who might also be a serial killer - and it pushed a lot of buttons). Filming in digital video with non-existent budgets appears to be his preferred method of working. He trusts his actors to deliver improvisational scenes that get under your skin. 2004's Anonymous was an erotic yet harrowing portrait of a sex addict. 2006's Bulldog in the Whitehouse looked like a home movie but was also one of the best attacks of the Bush administration this reviewer has seen. Always the experimental director, 2007's Hooks To The Left was filmed entirely on a Nokia cell phone.

Verow's latest, Deleted Scenes (2010), is typically edgy and defies easy description. Deleted Scenes explores a dysfunctional relationship between two very different men. Sean (Michael Vaccaro) is an insecure and nervous introvert with an escalating drug problem. He's also a bit of a stalker. Wolf (Ivica Kovacevic) is a European emigre who likes to hustle on the side. There's a little bit of Stanley Kowalski in this guy; he's both vulnerable and hot. Wolf is outgoing, promiscuous, and surprisingly patient with his needy new boyfriend. They don't seem to have much in common but they do share an intense physical attraction and they enjoy a lot of hot sex.

Deleted Scenes plays like a demented version of Bergman's Scenes From A Marriage. The opening title card states that the following "deleted scenes" are from an "unfinished / untitled dysfunctional relationship drama" and the reasons for their removal are "length, denial, melodrama, believability, bad dubbing, sexual content, etc." The suggestion that what we are watching are the outtakes of the story (even if this clearly isn't the case) is an intriguing one. Like most of Verow's films, Deleted Scenes is hardly a conventional narrative. The film even ends with an "alternate ending" which is actually an earlier scene re-played in a minor key. Verow's scripts are sometimes all over the place (not unlike one of Jack Kerouac's Beat novels) but he is quite good at capturing realistic and evocative moments that resonate on almost primal levels. When we eavesdrop on lovers in a Verow film, we know we're not watching a Doris Day comedy.

Each of these segments are given titles, some of them gently mocking the film's format, like "Sean speaks to Wolf for the first time (bad dubbing)." Their initial meeting consists of checking each other out on a public pier. Sean, who talks too much when he gets nervous, makes the first awkward move. They exchange phone numbers by calling each other. Wolf's cell phone's ringtone is a medley of jungle animal roars and it comically suits his nature. There's a full moon that night and Sean asks Wolf if he should be scared. The next fragment, entitled "Mailbox full," introduces Sean the stalker, repeatedly leaving phone messages until Wolf finally calls him back to arrange a first date. His neurosis becomes even more farcical (or pathetic) later when he anxiously calls Wolf and wakes him up so that he can ask him if he's home. Then, to be even more annoying, he whines "prove it."

Explicit sex, as is often the case in Verow's films, takes center stage quite often. Is this porn with a plot? Some might think so, but there is too much else going on to make such a gross simplification, even though the sex is even more raw than Verow's usual standards in this one. Carnal experiments become crucial to their character development. When Wolf first arrives at Sean's apartment, he is greeted by a carefully staged tableau: Sean sits nonchalantly, shirtless, watching hard core gay porn. His intentions couldn't be more obvious. Wolf takes the hint, steps in front of the television, turns it off, and pulls his shirt over his head. The subsequent sex is explicit, yet artsy with a mix of jump cuts and long takes. Sexy kisses last for several feet of film.

What begins as two fuck buddies grows into something more. Are these men made for each other? Probably not. Sean is too needy, yet Wolf seems to want somebody to look after. The glimpses of their marriage leave searing flashes like one of James Joyce's epiphanies. We are privy to all of their private moments. An arm draped across a chest, a smile of contentment; these are among the small loving gestures that make the earth move under their feet and ours. A shot of the lovers sharing a bath recalls beautiful images from European cinema. But there's also plenty of drama between these two. Sean's possessiveness becomes disturbing and creepy. Discovering that his boyfriend is a hustler becomes a catalyst for violence. When Sean's drug use spirals out of control, Wolf ties up his detoxing lover with duct tape and the scene is strangely hot, hilarious, and underscored by an odd pathos.

Adding interest, but also interrupting the main narrative thread are a bevy of supporting characters. Verow appears as John, an amateur porn filmmaker who pays Wolf to perform in his videos. John meets a nasty end when he moves on to a new hustler. Brad Halliwell, who starred in the director's autobiographical Vacationland, has a major supporting role as Fast Eddy, a young hedonist who threeways with Sean and Wolf in a beach house that does not belong to him. He's a flirt and a slut but his mischievous and boyish looks hide a dark side that is revealed later. But it's an under-written part; his later scenes really don't do much to further the main plot - and could have been the subject of a separate film - but, then again, this movie is called Deleted Scenes.

Verow saves the most interesting moment for last in the segment entitled "Alternative Ending." It appears that the relationship may be over, or perhaps this is Sean's last ditch effort to save it. Sean calls Wolf and asks if they can rendezvous on the pier where they first met and re-enact their first meeting. The dialogue from the earlier scene is repeated verbatim but this time Sean's nervous delivery has been replaced with a profound sadness. There's also a light rain and Wolf punctures any banal sentimentality by looking ludicrous as he holds an umbrella.

The script by Verow and his longtime artistic partner, James Derek Dwyer, is a realistic one and not a fluffy romantic comedy. Vaccaro and Kovacevic are both suitably intense as the dysfunctional lovers and they deliver terrific performances. The actors are both handsome men, and they look good naked, but neither is a perfect, buffed runway model and that is a plus in the film's favor. It seems that most of the film was shot in sequence (Vaccaro's chest hair gets thicker as the film progresses) and it shows in the acting - their chemistry intensifies. They are convincing as lovers getting to know one another, and then as a couple who has had enough. A lot of the photography, most of it shot by the director, has a very European feel to it. A silhouette of the two men kissing behind a frosted glass French door window is reminiscent of Bertolucci. The music, by Dwyer, is quietly effective without being obtrusive. A few of the best moments are allowed to play out in silence.

I've written before, flippantly, that I have a love-hate relationship with Verow's films - in much the same way that I once reacted to the early films of Gregg Araki. In a manifesto that he penned for the 2009 Berlin Film Festival Teddy Awards, reprinted on his Facebook page, Verow asked, "Aren't you tired by now of these buff, shiny, happy, pretty pretty gay people in (alleged) comedies about hooking up and being shirtless and oh-so-pretty and oh-so-vacant." I know that I've seen my share and so these raw slices of life are a great diversion.


More on Todd Verow :

Bulldog In The Whitehouse
Between Something & Nothing
The Boy With The Sun In His Eyes

Leave Blank
The Endless Possibility Of Sky
Bad Boy Street

Berlin Film Festival Essay:
No More Mr. Nice Guy
a Manifesto by Todd Verow

Brad Halliwell also appears in:

The Endless Possibility Of Sky